Year of the Rat


Every sixty years the entire calendar of Chinese zodiac signs and their elements begins again. 2020’s Chinese New Year marks the beginning of one of those cycles. The last one occurred in 1960, the year of my birth. In a reassuring sign of synchronicity I discovered this fact after announcing in the previous post that REBIRTH is my chosen word for 2020.

In Chinese astrology, the Rat was the first of the twelve zodiac animals to reach the Buddha’s door for a great feast after secretly riding on the back of Ox across a river only to scamper down across the finish line before anyone else. Even though Rat cheated, the Buddha admired the animal’s craftiness and placed it first on the calendar in front of Ox. In addition to twelve astrology signs, the five classical elements of water, wood, fire, earth and metal also contribute to the cycles, and once again, the Metal Rat is the first of all Rats in the zodiac calendar, which was the case in 1960 and now in 2020.

While this particular rodent gets a bad rap in Western culture, they are respected in the East for their resourcefulness and skills in adapting to difficult times. They are always on the go but seek stability in their lives. The Metal element adds strength, courage, generosity and forgiveness to the Rat, who has a tendency to be frugal (stingy) and ambitious (greedy). No matter which element of Rat, it is always the first zodiac sign of the twelve-year cycles that have been documented for well over 4,000 years.

In Eastern creation myths, the universe existed as an inert egg-shaped space until Rat gnawed a hole into it, allowing life-giving air to enter. Whatever year you were born, a Rat year signals renewal and regeneration with opportunities to lay foundations for the future and determine goals for the next twelve years, or in this case, the next sixty. Think about the new era that began in 1960 with all the social and cultural changes that revolutionized the world for better, and for worse.

Personally, I am on the other side of eye surgeries in February that removed cataracts and allowed me to see distance without contacts or glasses for the first time in my life with the help of toric lens implants, an advanced technology that was non-existent until recently. As typical of Rats, I had managed to adapt to my extreme myopia for decades with the help of contacts and glasses until they were no longer effective. I endured many months of blurry vision no matter what the distance and relied on others to help me navigate the world, which is not easy for an independent Rat whose fight-or-flight response is overly developed. I spent much of my time last year managing the fear of not seeing what was happening in the world around me, and what was worse–not being able to recognize what was up ahead.

Now I can not only see ahead, but what’s going on a block or two away, whether I want to or not. I’m finding this new super power a mixed blessing in many ways. There’s much to like about being blissfully ignorant, but that does not sit well with the nature of the Rat, who is ever vigilant to scarcity and danger, ready to pick up and move to safety at a moment’s notice. My ability to always have an escape hatch, whether I use it or not, has been a comfort to me all my life. When I have no better options, I will stand my ground and fight armed with a sword committed to fairness and equality. It’s no accident that I was born into tumultuous times where many were fighting for civil rights and social justice.

But the better options for me and perhaps all of us at the start of this new era, is to work together toward building solid foundations and setting progressive goals that improve our lives using the abundant energies of the Rat with the help of tools like creativity, resourcefulness, ingenuity, open-mindedness and restoration. In the long run, these are the only weapons besides love that can conquer the enemies of fear and want that loom on our horizons in the next sixty years.

2020 Vision


As the dust from moving house settles after the holidays amid whiffs of freshly painted walls and new furniture, I’ve been contemplating my word for 2020 while looking back at the significance of my choice for 2019. According to my rough calculations in scrolling back on this blog, I’ve been picking a special word since 2013 or so that began with One Little Word. That’s seven years of farsighted intention that has always been prophetic by New Year’s Eve.

Which brings me to my 2019 word, “Light.” It was a heavy year, judging from my few posts, highlighted by plenty of dark times. Ironically (or not), my physical sight began to noticeably dim last year, especially when I travelled to London and struggled to view Turner’s murky paintings in archival lighting. When I finally made an appointment with my eye doctor in August, I was stunned to find out that I had advanced cataracts and my vision had deteriorated dramatically over a year’s time. Because I have been extremely myopic all my life with a very high-powered prescription, the cataracts were causing blurriness that could no longer be corrected with glasses. Eye dryness has also prevented me from wearing contacts for decades so the only solution is to have cataract surgery at the ripe old age of 59 and corrective lenses implanted.

Obviously too young for Medicare, I still qualify for insurance coverage because my vision is so blurry that I haven’t been able to drive for the last six months. When I finally got in to see one of the best ophthalmologists in the state, my eyesight had deteriorated to the point that I was quickly fast-tracked to the “3-month” waiting list. Meanwhile, as a plein-air artist who was finishing a 4-year grant project by creating distant landscapes and holding a final art show, I struggled to see what I was painting and more than once had flashbacks to Monet’s foggy work in his later years due to cataracts. After touching up four years’ worth of art for the final show, I stared at the 25 paintings on display while wondering how shockingly bright these will look after my surgery.

Which brings me to 2020 wondering if I will be able to see 20/20 on the eye chart when I finish the surgeries in February. For my entire life I’ve never been able to see distance without glasses, and my blurred view of the world has both protected and isolated me from the harsh truths and prejudices buffered by my thick glasses and gullibility. And while my long distance vision may be restored, the near-sight that I have relied on for so long will be gone. The tiny veins that glisten on a dragonfly’s wings and the intricate maze of threads while detangling a knot will disappear into the lost lands of foreground without reading glasses or magnifying glass, so close yet so far.

No matter what the outcome, my focus and perspective have begun to turn inward in these grey days of perpetual twilight. The harsh artificial lamps glow with angelic halos and the sun has become gentler in what he reveals. The moon is welcome but ghostly now, and often tripled in a sky out of a science fiction movie. The senses of touch, smell and sound have become more amplified, and when night comes, the womblike absence of light surrounds me in a waiting period of gestation before the post-surgery grand re-entry and big reveal.

So it will come as no surprise (especially if you read the last post) that my word for 2020 is REBIRTH. I am prepared for a whole new world of light and color, sharp insight and fresh point of view. The little crossed-eyed infant from the past will get a second chance to take wondrous halting baby steps into my third life stage. And perhaps in life’s theatre I will prefer the balcony this time rather than a front-row seat to the world’s troubles. A little distance at my age may not be a bad thing while I cheer the young on in their noble causes and fortuitous frays without craving the spotlight myself.

After all, the bright lights would only blind me from the inner path I now need to follow.

Starting Over


The photo above depicts our new beginning and a fresh portal. We start again in a new city, a different community, another context. Here we pause at the threshold of the next decade as I step into my sixties. I have shed plenty to get here, some by choice, so much by force.

Perhaps there was no other way. Maybe the reward is sweeter because the path was perilous. Regardless, second guessing only leads me down into dark depths and serves no purpose in the tricky twilight of hindsight.

Life has led me here, in this moment. This is all I know. For now.

Happy holidays my friends. The times, they are a-changing.

Letting Go Revisited


There’s snow in the forecast as I write on this dark final day of October when the thinnest of veils has already curtained our surrounding hazy fields before the hidden sun goes down. If I look out to the horizon I swear I can see souls from the past and future flying by in the wind today atop frantic leaves searching for ground. After a very hot and dry autumn, the weather has already played a trick on all who had hoped for a fun night of treats this Halloween with its howling high winds and stabbing hard freeze.

Like the leaves that will be gone by morning, I’ve spent the day letting go of things in this time of endings. The outgrown and expired have been sorted into charity bags or given to compost. I complete my necessary end-of-the-month tasks and check them off a list. I finish chores that have been languishing for months and gather the perishable before nightfall. And I continue to pack my hopes and dreams in moving boxes.

Maybe transitioning in the spring or summer is overrated. Perhaps the best time to silently slip away is when the fields lie empty and the villagers huddle inside by their fires loudly boasting about summer conquests while feasting on their triumphs. I don’t have much to say after two years at a retreat center in the country, and what was gained will be left behind. I take only experience, a little wisdom and some bittersweet memories. They are heavy enough.

Hopefully by the holidays, my spouse and I will be sitting at a new hearth heated with love and quiet resolve to be true to ourselves. There will be lots of beginnings in 2020 but I am not afraid. There is nothing left to regret on this day between the worlds and wonder, when I am more than ready to shed the old and welcome the new.

Swallow Time


On the last day of July, I take a big gulp and write again. I’ve been trying to figure out what to say after such a long pause, how to kickstart a place that’s grown dusty and silent. Four months have flown by since I’ve marked the page. In that time I’ve traveled extensively, including a family trip to London and back to the East coast twice.

Photos taken with the phone become my journal by giving me handy dates when time runs together as it has this year. I began this blog ten years ago and as in 2009, 2019 is a “nine” year of endings. Several projects and obligations are coming to a close for me. Traumas from the past rise up to be acknowledged and finally put to rest so that I can begin a new cycle in 2020. A new sense of self is slowly emerging from an old chrysalis to the tunes of buzzing cicadas and chirping crickets.

I fear this season is racing along too fast despite exciting travel adventures, jolly gatherings with friends, musical evenings and a few precious days of perfect weather. Autumn will see the completion of some commitments, and while I look forward to a quiet winter, I haven’t had my fill of the sun after a very cold and wet spring and early summer.

At least the barn swallows haven’t left yet. They swirl around the barn roofs and power lines, fattening up on insects and waiting for the later broods to fledge. I take comfort in their aerial acrobatics every day, and am ever grateful for every mosquito they consume. I enjoy and yet brace for the day when the stucco nests are empty and the rooflines bereft.

Until it’s time again next summer.

Moving On From Here


It’s the last day of March, and I’m not gonna lie: the last three months have been rough. Physically, mentally, emotionally, financially, spiritually and all other categories have been engaged, thank you very much. I’d like to say I see the light at the end of the tunnel. I’d like to say that spring is here and new beginnings abound.

But I can’t.

I’m in the midst of my second Saturn Return and completely undone. For anyone who knows astrology you’ll be shielding your eyes right now. For most of you who still read this blog, you’ll be puzzled by this statement. What is a second Saturn Return you ask? Every 29 years Saturn returns to the exact position that it was in at the moment of your birth in the natal chart. Think about what you and your world were like at 29 or 30, 59 or 60. And then you will understand the turmoil and transition to a new beginning, the burning off of old patterns depending on what sign and house your natal Saturn is in.

Saturn’s territory covers ambition, mastery, responsibility, duty, tradition, paying one’s dues, and the father. The second Saturn Return focuses on finishing up unfinished business from the first return, and acknowledging my mortality. In Capricorn which is Saturn’s ruler, the lessons are hard and long. I will get three chances to break the extremely strong patterns that hold a vice grip on my soul. The call to finish what I have come here to do are incessant and undeniable.

This astrological challenge plus the ten-year anniversary of this blog in 2009 has me reevaluating, questioning, and yes, even welcoming my life’s path moving onward. I will continue. I will persevere. With much help from the guides and friends who show up for me everyday, I will know love and support.

And that’s all that matters.

Stormy Weather


My word for the year “light” has already proven a constant quest and comfort in this first month of 2019. In the last 30 days I’ve experienced an eight-hour power outage during an ice storm with high winds, and the coldest day of my life so far, at minus 14 with wind chills of 42 below. And through it all I’ve relied on beacons of light and rays of warmth from my neighbors and my own stash full of flashlights and candles.

With weather like this, I’m grateful for a gas stove, small house and good windows. Back in the suburbs, everyone could easily become isolated inside their own personal igloos, garages shut tight and windows hidden in the back. This time, after about five hours in with no power, a welcome knock at my door from community members ready to hook up a generator to run my furnace in the pitch black with howling winds was a mission of love and sacrifice. I felt safe for one of the first times in my life because many cared enough to check on me since I was home alone for that particular storm.

I fear that weather and life will grow more extreme in the months and years to come, causing old systems to crumble as they become unsustainable. We can no longer afford to remain isolated in our private worlds with carefully segregated daily routines. Connection and community with our chosen families, neighborhoods, towns, cities, country and world is crucial to surviving the big shifts and fearful uncertainty that are looming in the shadows. We all have something to share, gifts and talents that will help us weather the storms together as we stoke the fires of caring and cooperation to warm our hearts and keep the lights on.